Cat wants OUT
September 26, 2005 9:22 AM   Subscribe

My indoor-only cat meows like CRAZY every time I go near my front door. Does my cat hate me and want to escape? Or, is it separation anxiety?? AskMe cat experts, please please help...

My cat Milo is 2 years old. He is an indoor-only cat in our decent-sized apartment with an enclosed patio, so he gets a taste of outside air and can see birds and other cats. He is neutered. He is the purringest cat I've ever seen, very loving and sweet. HOWEVER...lately he is driving me nuts with a certain behavior: every time I go near my front door, he meows like crazy and it seems like he wants desperately to get out! He gets all agitated, rubs my legs and the door and paces back and forth right in front of the door. If I'm going outside just for a little while (to take out the trash or get the laundry), when I come back he is waiting RIGHT at the door and meows long and loud when I noodge him with my foot out of the way.

A couple of months ago this behavior got even worse after my husband and I got back from our honeymoon -- we were gone for 3 weeks and left Milo and our other cat Spike with my parents. My parents said that Milo was very quiet and timid while we were gone, and didn't come out from behind their couch for the entire first day (Spike was perfectly fine, and still is). After we came back, Milo's door-freaking-outedness got worse, and now sometimes he'll suddenly race over to the door even when no one is going out, and start meowing and pawing the door like mad. And recently, we were leaving for a short weekend trip, and while we were packing, Milo peed on a blanket on our bed, which he has never done before!

And now for my barrage of questions: What the heck is going on? Separation anxiety? Is he trying to escape? Should I just get him a collar and let him be an outdoor cat now? We live near a pretty busy street in Los Angeles and I'm afraid he'll get hit by a car or maybe join a cat gang and never come back. Oh, and he actually managed to get out twice now through a window with a broken screen...I came home from work and found him just outside the window, meowing to get back in! Crazy freakin' cat. Has anyone here had this problem? Did you figure out what it was? What should I do?
posted by rio to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
Is Milo neutered? My guess depends on whether he is neutered or not.
posted by Justinian at 9:39 AM on September 26, 2005

oh crap, I am terrible at reading the question. You already said he is neutered. Sorry!

First, he almost certainly isn't trying to escape. Otherwise he wouldn't be hanging around trying to get back in. He probably just wants to go outside sometimes; cats are animals and many of them enjoy being outdoors. However, it isn't safe to let him be an outdoor cat in Los Angeles. He -will- get run over eventually. Indoor cats, especially in cities, live longer, healthier lives.

This may sound weird, but have you thought about taking him for walks? With a leash and everything? It would let him get outside but in a safe environment.
posted by Justinian at 9:43 AM on September 26, 2005

One of my cats does that every once in a while. Eventually I'll just say fine let's go outside and I go out with her. Something will inevitably spook her right away and she'll not want to go outside again for at least 6 months.
posted by birdherder at 9:47 AM on September 26, 2005

Sounds to me just like your cat knows the door is where you leave him. I wouldn't call it "separation anxiety" (that's a really overused term, and is normally reserved for a more serious set of issues, and it doesn't sound like your cat is having a serious problem), but simply that he doesn't want you to leave. I wouldn't start taking him out because of this. Just make sure he has things to do when you're gone and don't make a big deal about leaving.
posted by biscotti at 10:13 AM on September 26, 2005

Our cats do the same thing, cats are curious and figure that if you are going in and out that door every day, there must be something FANTASTIC outside. We live in a city and can't let ours out either. What I do is take him/her out for car rides (if you have one) loose (not in a pet taxi)...they love it, because they feel secure in the car but get to see new things. We've tried the leash thing also, but it's put a leash on a cat and they tend to just freeze and hunker down to the ground like the earth is about to collapse on top of them. Is Milo a shorthair gray cat (like a russian or british blue or something) by any chance?
posted by unccivil at 10:18 AM on September 26, 2005

We have a glass-paned front door, and we get this behavior (really a milder variant) at the garage door only. The door to the garage is in the kitchen, and is a full-panel steel security door. For whatever reason, our female cat has determined that she needs to know what is out there. A lot. Conversely, she and her brother view all door to the outside (which both have cat-level panes) as "Kitty TV." I think biscotti is (as usual) spot on.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:19 AM on September 26, 2005

I am not a vet, but the behavior you are describing sounds exactly what my cat starting doing awhile back.

First, the peeing. Was peeing on the blanket a one time thing? Or has he peed in other spots around the house? If that was a random occurance, I'd suggest that he was telling you that he was angry with you. If he's peed in other places, then: is the litterbox clean? Have you changed to a new type of litter? He may not like the feel/texture of the new stuff. Is he straining to urinate? If so, take him to a vet. (My cat decided that he no longer liked the litter we'd been using, and really preferred to pee on bunches of cloth...bunched up blankets, clothes dropped on the floor, laundry in a basket...after much consultation with the vet, cat behaviorists, and local animal shelter, we'd determined that the cat likes the feel of peeing on cloth, and our challenge was to find a litter that he liked better than cloth. Thankfully, we did. SwheatScoop, in case you are curious.) sounds like your cat really wants to be an indoor/outdoor cat. Again, when we adopted our cat, we had planned to make him indoor only (same reasons you have), and that worked fine for a short time. It soon became apparent that he REALLY wanted to go outside--sitting by the door, scratching the door, climbing the screen door, all activities accompanied by consistent whining. We took him outside on a leash a few times, but he didn't take to the leash so well. Finally, all of us were so miserable that we let him outside. And it's worked out all right. He stays on the block, he knows where home is, and is a much happier cat.

If you do decide to let your cat out, make sure he has a breakaway collar and an address tag, even if he's microchipped. This is my suggestion. Since so many cats roam freely, it's hard to know which cats are truly lost. Whenever I pet an outdoor cat, I check the tag to see if it's near home. I've met two who were more than a few blocks from home, so I took them to their streets. And one of these cats was greeted by a tearful boy who was distraught that his kitty was lost.

Good luck.
posted by luneray at 10:29 AM on September 26, 2005

Best answer: All I can say is that I sympathise. How crazy! I mean this sounds like it's not occasional but constant! I will say that I have a high energy cat who was crazy until really the last year or so; he's 4 now. So maybe he will calm down with time. Goooood luck.
posted by scazza at 10:29 AM on September 26, 2005

Also, if you let him out make sure he has all his shots. My vet was casual about my cat getting his shots since he is an indoor cat, and had never had contact with another cat in his life, but an outdoor cat is certainly a different story.
posted by scazza at 10:33 AM on September 26, 2005

This may sound weird, but have you thought about taking him for walks? With a leash and everything? It would let him get outside but in a safe environment.
posted by Justinian at 9:43 AM PST on September 26

Just so you know, every time we take our cat out for supervised outdoor fun (on a leash), we have to put up with days of her constantly staring out of and meowing at the patio door. It only makes their LET'SGOOUTSIDELET'SGOOUTSIDELET'SGOOUTSIDE modules stronger. :(
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:42 AM on September 26, 2005

I missed some of the post somehow. I would talk to your vet about this, it does actually sound like separation anxiety now that I've read the whole thing, and there are medications and behavioural modification work you can start working with to help. Please don't let your cat be an outdoor cat, it's a bad idea for a host of reasons discussed here and elsewhere ad nauseam, and it won't solve the problem. Inappropriate urinating should be first handled as a medical problem (rule this out first), but in a healthy cat is almost always stress-related. Have you considered getting another cat?
posted by biscotti at 10:48 AM on September 26, 2005

Another thought...with the peeing thing, if it was only one time, (especially while you were packing to leave) don't worry about it. However, if it continues often, you need to have a vet check him out. Indoor male cats often have urinary problems due to crystals that build up in their urine (outdoor cats don't seem to have as much of a problem). This problem showed up in both of our male cats when they were 2-3 years old. Usually, ending the high-salt treats and switching to a special low-sodium food solves the problem easily.
posted by unccivil at 10:51 AM on September 26, 2005

It's separation anxiety and stress. I really don't think he wants to go outside, I think he doesn't want you to leave.

I once watched a animal behavior program in which a dog would do a similar thing: every time it looked like the family was leaving, he'd freak out. The behavioralist instructed the family to periodically get on their coats and shoes, get their keys and bags... and sit down on the couch. Basically, they trained the dog out of freaking out by disassociating the leaving with the being alone. I wonder if you might be able to do something similar with your kitty.

I would definitely keep him an indoor cat, by the way.
posted by Specklet at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2005

biscotti, rio already has another cat, Spike.

And ppl seem to be saying that Milo doesn't want rio to leave, but he does it even when they're nowhere near the door, "now sometimes he'll suddenly race over to the door even when no one is going out, and start meowing and pawing the door like mad." How is that still separation anxiety.

I also think you should talk to a vet.
posted by scazza at 12:29 PM on September 26, 2005

Ah, meant to include a question mark there. How is that still separation anxiety?
posted by scazza at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2005

I still think it's separation anxiety. He's associating the door with folks leaving, and I imagine that every once in a while, he sees the door and just remembers that bad things happen becasue of that door. Remember, cats have a brain the size of a walnut. Or a superball. Or maybe even a peach pit.
posted by Specklet at 12:35 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: Man, thanks so much for everyone's response. Yeah, he does do it when we're not even near the door, so it's weird! We'll be sitting on the couch watching TV and snuggling him and then he jumps up does his thing by the door. But I guess like Specklet said, it may just be he suddenly "sees the door and remembers bad things happen because of that door." My poor baby.

And yup, we do have another kitty, 1-year-old Spike. He just watches Milo acting like this and you can tell he's thinking "what the heck is wrong with you, dude?"

The peeing was just a one-time thing, and it really seemed directly associated with us packing (litter box was A-OK, I ran to check it right away).

I was going to take him to the vet pretty soon anyways, so I will definitely bring it up there. In the meantime, I will keep doing what I'm doing (shooing him away from the open door, trying to give him daily playtime when we ARE here), and I won't give in and make him an outdoor cat.

I like the suggestion of driving him around and taking him outside with me once in a while...but then that might be positive reinforcement like Optimus Chyme said earlier. Hm.
posted by rio at 1:08 PM on September 26, 2005

Don't let him be an outdoor cat; you're just asking for inconvenience and heartbreak.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:10 PM on September 26, 2005

Best answer: I'll start by saying I've had six different cats, all indoor-only (one lived to be twenty), and they all did fine with being indoor cats. I feel strongly (for a variety of reasons) that this is the only responsible thing for domestic cat owners to do.
I have just one other suggestion - instead of "shooing him away from the door" every time, try greeting him when you come in. Our cat makes this easy because he is always on top of the newel post when we come in. So we say hi, and stop for a few seconds to let him smell our breath (yes - cats have a great sense of smell, and so I just open my mouth and breath through it and he sticks his head there and sniffs a little), then pet him a stroke or two - at which point he jumps down and goes into the rest of the house with us. Maybe you can find a way to greet your little guy so he'll know you're happy to be home with him.
We've done this with both male cats we've had (our female doesn't seem to require it. I think it might let him know you appreciate/love him. Also, when we leave, we say goodby and tell him we'll be back later. This last bit may be just for us, but it's a routine, and cats love routine.
Best of luck.
posted by dbmcd at 2:57 PM on September 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

That doesn't sound like separation anxiety to me, that sounds like a simple desire to go outside. Doing out of nowhere like that is a big clue. I'd suggest trying the leash idea to see how it works.

Most indoor cats I've seen that wanted to go out were almost instantly cured by the terrifying Big Blue Room.
posted by Malor at 8:32 PM on September 26, 2005

I agree with the advice about outdoor cats -- don't. It's bad for your cat, it's bad for the local fauna, and it will be bad for you when (yep, *when*) he gets killed in some awful way.

That said, if some component of the behaviour really is "I wanna go OUUUUTTT", do at least try a leash. I'll ask the spousal unit to post a link to the one we use; contrary to unccivil's experience, our cat doesn't even seem to notice the harness and leash until she hits the end of it. Optimus Chyme has a point though -- the "wanna go OUUUUTTT" does get worse if we don't give her regular outside time.
posted by sennoma at 10:58 PM on September 26, 2005

Spousal Unit here. This is the "walking jacket" we use. It's wonderful--very comfy and safe for kitty, and unescapable.

Sadly, we took the cat outside yesterday, and now she's whining so much that we're about to roast her and eat her. Anyone want a walking jacket?
posted by frykitty at 11:09 PM on September 26, 2005

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